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Issue #1868      May 15, 2019

Disability in the spotlight

Australia’s hidden shame – the treatment of disabled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – is to be put under the spotlight as part of a $527 million royal commission into the abuse and neglect of disabled Australians.

Launch of First Peoples Disability Network Australia (FPDN)’s National “Our Way” Disability Planning Resource in Townsville.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week announced the royal commission, which will take three years and include Aboriginal woman Andrea Mason as one of five commissioners.

First Nations Disability Network chief executive Damian Griffis welcomed the announcement, saying it was a positive step towards addressing the violence, abuse and neglect encountered by many disabled people.

“We are anxious to make sure that our people with disabilities are heard in the commission,” he said. “‘To make sure of that, Aboriginal organisations that have experience with disabilities have to be well resourced to do that work and to get out into communities.”

Griffis told the Koori Mail that the 2016 Census had revealed that a staggering 45 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had some form of disability or long-term health condition.

“That is twice that of the rest of the Australian population, which is 19 percent.”

Griffis said one concern about the announcement was that the royal commission doesn’t include the measure of psychosocial disability or mental health.

“It would be very unusual for Aboriginal people not to have experienced depression and anxiety.”

He said however that commission would include the 7.7 percent of all Aboriginal people with severe or profound disability, which meant serious limitations on mobility or ability to understand certain things because of intellectual disabilities.

“As someone who has worked in this sector since I left high school, I have always heard lots of stories of violence, abuse and neglect, but much of it has been hidden away,” Griffis said. “Some of the institutions where Aboriginal people have been locked away are the most secret in the country, even more so than prisons.

“From an Aboriginal perspective there’s always been rumours of the high numbers of Aboriginal people who grew up in the most notorious institutions in Australia who were often even denied their own Aboriginality.

“These are important stories that need to be told. We are expecting to get funded to provide support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their families but need significant resources to do this.

“It will require a workforce that can get around the country. Most of our staff here have a disability or are close to someone with a disability and we will be aiming to employ even more people with disabilities to get out and support our people.”

And while he welcomed the royal commission, Mr Griffis said it was “disturbing news” that the National Disability Insurance Scheme had been underspent by $1.6 billion, which was returned to prop up the Budget surplus.

“The Budget surplus is being created on the back of people with disabilities, which is terrible,” Griffis said. “We support the NDIS in principle, but it is broken and people with disabilities are now sharing stories about how poorly the NDIS is working for them.”

In announcing the royal commission, Morrison said the three-year investigation would be based in Brisbane and would be headed by former Federal Court judge Ronald Sackville.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said he was pleased the royal commission had been called before the imminent federal election.

“A royal commission into people with disabilities is overdue,” he said.

Greens senator Jordon Steele-John has led the charge for a royal commission.

“This is a great victory for the disability rights movement in Australia, for the Greens who have been campaigning alongside activists now for five years to get this done.”

The government expects the royal commission to release an interim report by the end of October next year, with a final report due by the end of April 2022.

Koori Mail

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